Market Watch

Local-food distributors

Local Food

The next step in the local-food movement? Distribution centers.     Photo: David Wright

In order for locally grown food to have a true impact on urban sustainability, all those tomatoes and radishes need to move beyond just the NPR tote bags and into grocery stores, school lunches, and inner-city food deserts. The problem is, produce buyers don’t have the time to coordinate with a dozen farmers. That’s why recently launched websites like Local Dirt and FoodHub are combining social networking and agri­culture. Growers list what they’re harvesting, and buyers place orders online and pick them up. Which is good for, say, a tiny bistro, but public schools aren’t going to stock their cafeterias from individual farm stands.

The next step? Local distribution centers: farmers send their crops to a modern processing facility, which delivers them to urban stores and restaurants, the same way conventional food finishes its 3,000-mile journey. The SENC Foods Processing and Distribution Center opened in Burgaw, North Carolina, in March; Madison, Wisconsin, and Berkeley, California, have similar projects launching in the next year.

The real game-changer, however, could be a company many consider the antichrist of localism: Walmart. Now the largest grocer in the nation, the big-box retailer has begun selling local produce to reduce shipping costs and reach its sustainability goals. Even more, a new program aims to support growers who reestablish traditional local crops, like blueberries and onions, that have been displaced by cotton, soybeans, and corn.

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